In this episode Katya interviews Physician Farmer Dr. Ron Weiss about the connection between the health of plants and the health of human beings. Dr. Weiss has established a unique primary care office at the farm called Ethos Farm! Ethos Health is where an experienced board-certified physician and botanist collaborates with organic farmers, nutrition educators and plant-based chefs to optimize the health of each individual.
The audio quality is not very good. You can read the entire interview below.
Ron Weiss, M.D. is a diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine and Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. He is the founder and owner of Ethos Health, a primary care medical practice based on an organic farm where the food grown is the medicine. More information can be found at: www.mythoshealth.com
As an internist and ER physician for over twenty years, Dr. Weiss has integrated a plant-based diet within his traditional practice to improve the health of many thousands of patients. He has worked in various settings: First as an internist at The World Bank in Washington, D.C. and The Medical Group of Beverly Hills in Los Angeles and then as attending ER physician at UCLA Olive View Medical Center and The General Hospital Center of Passaic and finally, as founder of a busy community medical center in West New York, NJ.
Dr. Weiss received his medical degree from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at George Washington University Medical Center. He holds baccalaureate degrees in botany and music from Rutgers University where he graduated Magna Cum Laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
When asked why he has opened a medical practice on a farm, Dr Weiss responds: “I see this farm as an opportunity for me to take everything I’ve done all my life, all the biology and chemistry of the plants I have grown and studied, and link them to the human biological system.”
Dr. Weiss is married with two young children with whom he shares his love of violin, tennis, swimming and the natural world.
- http://www.myethoshealth.com/ – Ethos Farm and Primary Care
- https://www.facebook.com/MyEthosHealth – Ethos Farm Facebook Page
You have cultivated and grown plants since you were 5 years old. Would you share with us the connection between the health of the plants and the health of a human body?
Sure! The connections between the human health and plants are myriad and very profound. And I would need days to detail them. But then simplistically if we just think about it plants are human beings connection to the cosmos. Plants are unique life form on Earth. Only plants can take the energy of our sun and convert it into energy for us. At the same time plants harness the “start dust” the minerals and the basic minerals form our earth, water, and air. They transform it into food. They feed us. I like to think about them that they, that plants are the connector for us to the cosmos. And if you try to define those areas further, I think one has to think about what exactly going on in plants and how do they assemble the food for us. Those are very complex mechanisms we are still finding out about. Plants make food for us that we take into our bodies thought amazingly complex gastro intestinal track. We break them down into the molecules first and then reassemble those molecules into us. The outer environment becomes us. So I think it is very important to pay attention to what those materials are because it boils down to that old saying: “you are what you eat.”
It is complex! Why do you think we should eat plants rather than animals?
We eat plant because they are the life form on Earth that makes higher forms of life including us possible. Plants are the only mechanism we have on Earth to harness Sun’s energy; turn it into energy human beings and other animals require to live. In addition to that we came from the Earth and we return to the Earth: from dust to dust. We are made out of elements that originated far ago, from the formation of the starts. Plants are the mechanism to get those elements from our Earth and water; turn them into food that becomes us. Those are the overall reasons why we need plants. On the very much finer level plants are finesse. What they do for us is not just providing the fuel for us to burn; calcium and magnesium and minerals; but they create extremely complicated molecules. Plants use these molecules in their defense because plants do not have arms and legs and cannot pick up sticks or run away from predators. So their defensive mechanism involves very complicated molecules. Plants harness chemical advances to defend themselves in the wild. Humankind has evolved to take these molecules and use them to our benefit in amazing way that we are just now are finding out about. These molecules are primarily responsible for literally the way human DNA expresses itself for the benefit of healthy living.
Amazing! That brings me to the question of how do you transform one’s health with plants? How do you personally do it? Why did you decide to open primary practice at the farm?
For many reasons! I have had a great love of plants ever since I was a small child. I always wanted to be a farmer. That is the way it started off. I wanted to be a doctor as well, but I guess I accomplished the doctor part and the farm part was missing. From my boyhood days I always had that dream. As I got older, got married, had a family, and had small children of my own I began to look around and notice that the health of the human beings in this country is devolving. Our environmental health and the health of the Earth are devolving. This decision did not occur in an hour or a day, but over years. Pulling the trigger was implemented by the birth of our children. I felt as if it was really necessary for me to take action, to try to do something that would change things for future generations including my children. So there would be a healthy world and society for them to live in. For me that involved selling my old medical practice and getting this farm maybe as a statement and promise for the future for our children and grandchildren. There could be another way of growing our food and supporting health.
I hope your example will encourage other physicians to look at the way we think about health and nutrition. Could you share one your patients’ story with us?
Sure! The approach of plant-based medicine is one that uses healthy food to not only prevent but many times to reverse chronic illnesses. If you were to walk into the standard primary care office you will see a whole array of patients with different problems such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, neurodegenerative disease, malignancies, gastro-intestinal diseases, kidney stones, and autoimmune diseases. We had people who have come in with these problems and we have done very well reversing them. Commonly older people will come in with osteoarthritis, which have been plaguing them for years. Very shortly within weeks of changing their diet much of the time patients become asymptomatic. And this is for example of having knee pains for many years, which requires them to have drugs. At the very least they are vastly better and knee pains are much improved. Better than any medicine could have achieved. Another example is high blood pressure. Most often when our patients start our program here they were on blood pressure medicine. At the beginning of our program we discontinue the medicine and within a couple of weeks they come back usually with normal blood pressure, excellent blood pressure as a matter of fact. Where a few weeks before the patient was on blood pressure medication, they are no longer after a few weeks of eating properly. The stories go on. We have asthmatics who visited emergency room a number of times per year for many years and often were taking prednisone, which is a steroid, several times a year. They were on multiple medications. Within months after beginning of our program they are on no medications for asthma at all. The list goes on!
This is fantastic! It sounds almost unreal! People had pain for years; they come in; start participating in your program and pain dissolves!
Of course I just want to say that we cannot promise cures for everything for everyone. Eventually someone comes who has a very resistant case of asthma or one who has a high blood pressure that for some reason cannot be remediated, but those cases we find are rare. And for the average person even after suffering with these illnesses for years, the illnesses are reversible and patients do very well on this lifestyle change.
This is very inspiring and empowering to know that there is a power in your hands (in your fork) and with a diet you can reverse and alleviate so much suffering. What is the diet you recommend to your patients?
The first thing I would like to say is that the diet is at the core of what we recommend. And it is more than just a diet. That is why we have the entire program on the farm. In general diets usually fail when people try to implement them because the food that we eat and why we eat it is very complicated. There are all kinds of connections and attachments every time we put a fork with something into our mouth. If you look across America, Americans are always on diets. As a society we have a high rate of being overweight. In general we just keep getting heavier. And many of us are on diets. They do not seem to work in a sustained way. I just want to say that a diet of whole unrefined plant foods is the diet for health, is a diet to be in a slim shape. However as in all diets just because it is healthy for you it does not mean it is sustainable. That is a problem with diets. Even a diet of whole unrefined plant foods is not sustainable if the diet does not come with a change of thinking, the change of heart, and a change of living. On our farm we have taken the diet at its core, teach, promote, and infuse it into people with the attachments of living. And we feel that this makes it sustainable.
Right! You have a program called The Year Of Mindful Living. Are you referring to this program? The program encompasses not just the diet but behavioral change.
Yes, and that is why we call it “Mindful Living”. In order for a diet to be successful you really have to be mindful of all of the attachments of food and how that food comes to you: who grew it, how it was grown, its affect on the environment and earth, the emotions that are attached to eating and why you are eating it, and so on. People are most successful in their approach to food and their diets if they are mindful of why they are eating of what they are eating.
Absolutely! And I know for some people a year might sound like a long time, but I know from my practice and personal experience that trying to change your mind and have an understanding about your habits takes time. Our attachment to food and what we eat is very strong! Unless you get to the core it is very hard to get rig of some habits.
Just for example, since we are little babies 5 – 6 months old, our mom has put food in our mouth. We have attachments to food beyond our memory, which are so ingrained in us. Those things are very deep and sometimes not within our conscious recognition. That is why it is so important to develop mindful ways.
Absolutely! So, how does your program work?
The portal of entry for our program is called Dr. Weiss’ 30-Day Challenge. We believe that it is a dramatic way to start to change your life. But we feel it is the most beneficial to start quickly and decisively. One day wake up and change everything you were eating with this very focused plan, which I put together. It basically consists of a few starches, greens, fruits and water. We go into the specifics of that with a patient. Before starting this 30-Day Challenge patients get a set of blood tests and upon completion of the program get the second set of blood tests. I meet with the patients and instruct them as to the details of this Challenge and what they are to be eating. And what happens is we look at markers of inflammation and other interesting things on the bookend of blood test. When patients come back after the 30 days for follow up we show the patients how their blood has materially changed during these 30 days in many ways, and much of the time so dramatically that it does not appear to be even from the same patient. Very dramatic changes! And of course within this 30-day period the patient has dramatic clinical and systematic changes. Generally speaking their sleep improves dramatically, energy levels improve dramatically, many aches and pains go away including chronic headaches, joint aches, and backaches and all kinds of things. There is usually large amount of weight loss during the 30-Day Challenge. That is the way we would like to begin. After the 30-Day Challenge we would like to individually address each patient’s situation and transition them to an appropriate unrefined plant foods diet as we are educating them. Education is included in the Year of Mindful Living that involves 24 sessions: about a session every two weeks at the farm classroom that can be attended remotely via Skype or telephone conference. During the Year of Mindful Living for doctor’s visits patients come to the farm to see me and continue their medically guided progress as needed. Some patients might be very sick and I have to see them quite often, some patients might be fairly well to begin with so they need to be seeing not very often.
What about you? How did you come to the whole foods plant based understanding of health?
The patient zero as it was for me was my own father. I understood to the extent that we all understand that the food was important in health, but I did not really understand profound implications in the reversal and treatment of disease until my own father was diagnosed with end stage metastatic pancreatic cancer. After I have finished all my training I was a doctor for less than a year in practice. My father was having severe abdominal pain. Fairly quickly he went to the doctor and he was handed this diagnosis. I moved home to help take care of him. We took him to the experts at well-known cancer hospital. The experts gave him about 1 to 3 months to live and offered him the standard chemotherapy, which would not have a significant affect on him. My father refused the treatment and I went home with him and started to look for something. It is hard for a young doctor who is trained to save people to let his own father to just perish. So, I started to look in every corner I have never been before, behind every tree, and under every rock. I started going to libraries and reading. This was really before the Internet. I could not do research very well on a computer. As a medical student and an intern I have never been really taught much about nutrition. I finally was impressed by some of the things I was reading about a diet which was known as Macrobiotic diet at a time. It is a form of eating which consists of whole unrefined foods. It is a plant-based diet. My mother and I took my father to the leader of this Macrobiotic diet in Boston. His name was Michio Kushi. He instructed my father. My father seemed to receive these instructions quite well. It was the only hope anyone had given him. We went home. My mother started to cook and my father started to eat. I was just amazed at what had happened to him. Quickly within days his severe abdominal pain had vanished. As many people know pancreatic cancer is one of the most painful cancer there is. And bowel movement normalized within the day or two. He got off all of his pain drugs within days. Within a week he went back to work. He was an attorney. Two weeks later he went to the gym. A few weeks later he was running. He just got better, and better. About three months later we went to a local oncologist and got a CAT scan. There was 1/3 reduction of all of his many tumor masses in his abdomen. I was just bowled over. In my residency I had treated many pancreatic cancer patients and I saw even with chemo pancreatic cancer had an inexorable progression. And here my father was doing supposedly nothing, but eating some simple foods. The cancer was melting. About nine months later we got another CAT scan and the tumors have regressed by 50% overall. And to this day there is no chemotherapy that can do that. This was about 23 years ago. About a year later after his diagnosis we went back to that same hospital to see if there were any advances or new drugs that were available. My father was still doing very well. When he walked into the doctor’s office at this hospital the doctor was shocked to see him. He asked what my father has been doing. We told him what my father did this past year since he did not come for chemo. The doctor wanted to know why my father was still alive. When my father started telling him that he was eating seaweed, brown rice, collards, and kale the doctor lost his complete interest. We changed the subject. I know this is a long answer but this is the punch line to the question you asked me. What was the point that I changed? That was the define moment. I looked at what my father was doing and I knew he was not crazy and CAT scans were not lying. It was not magic. My father was kind of a control case study. He did not do chemo and the diet. He refused chemo. He was only eating these foods. It must have been the foods that had helped him. I decided to change at that moment. I was disappointed in that doctor’s perception of this information. As a young doctor I learned from that teaching moment that I should not do that. I wanted to have an open mind to receive information and process it in a common sense way. Because I have seen the power of these foods helping my father I decided that I would change my path from this conventional drug based, procedure based medicine that I have been taught. I would pursue this path. And that is what I have been doing for the past 23 – 24 years.
This is an absolutely fascinating story! I am very thankful to you for sharing it with us because it really demonstrates one of the problems we have in healthcare system. The understanding that simple food will help your body heal is not of the interest to the majority of modern doctors today. This is very sad.
It is sad especially when you consider when I graduated from State Medical School in New Jersey on my Diploma was a depiction of Hippocrates. His image is engraved in gold on my Diploma. Yet I was never taught anything. His name was never mentioned. As medical students we were never taught about anything regarding his ideas, his thoughts, or his teaching. It was only after this experience with my father when I started to go back and really study. I realized that the key was this founding father of Western medical thought. He was the person whose grate contribution was the thought that the food is most valuable medicine. Food and exercise by the way. But it is not taught. What is taught is pharmacologic and procedure based medicine.
It is hard to believe that doctors today are not taught much about nutrition. Do you feel that it is changing a little bit? Do you think that more young doctors become more aware of the power of food and take a different route?
It does not seem to be changing much in the academic institutions. For the first time that I am aware of a major American Medical School – Emory School of Medicine is sponsoring a plant based whole foods convention with a lecture series this coming November. To me that is the first sign that there is some recognition by a major medical academic institution that there is value in plant based whole foods as it relates to our health. I think that is exciting. However, other than that I have not seen anything yet. I think it is only a matter of time because it is the truth. And truth especially in America usually always outs itself because we have a free society where free speech is highly valued. Not only young people, but also old and middle age people think that this information starts filter though our society. I think that on the fringe people are starting to become aware of this information. People are learning about The China Study, they are learning about Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Joel Fuhrman…
And Dr. Weiss!
Right! Hopefully they inspire young people. Our dream here because I am an assistant professor of clinical medicine at my Alma Mater: Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, that we will be able to have medical students: interns and residence come to our farm just as they came to our urban medical practice and learn how plants connect people’s health and vice versa. Eating is essential to being healthy. We are very excited developing that program and hopefully we will be able to do it in the near future.
This is very powerful! This is fantastic news. I hope that one day this will be a standard practice for all medical students. Dr. Weiss, thank you so much! You shared so much useful and thought provoking information about how we are connected to plants and overall to the universe and how we need to go back to simple whole foods plant based diet to achieve optimal health. Thank you!
Each episode, Katya Trent, a Certified Health Coach, and founder of Health Coaches of Kentucky, has a conversation with a doctor about important wellness issues that can help you make a difference in your health. If you have questions about this episode or have a question you would like me to ask a doctor in my next episode just email me.
The only purpose of this podcast is to educate and to inform. It is no substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional.